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Style with substance: the edgy world of Reka Nyari

Style with substance: the edgy world of Reka Nyari

© Reka Nyari

February 2017

After graduating from art school in New York, Reka Nyari began her career in front of the lens as a model and was soon using cameras to document her travels. She has now established herself as a highly creative fine art, fashion and beauty photographer who isn’t afraid to shoot edgy images that explore human sensuality. In an exclusive interview she spoke to CPN writer Steve Fairclough to discuss her work, her approach to creating pictures and why she chose to shoot with the EOS system.

Despite hailing from Europe – her mother is from Finland and her father from Hungary – Reka moved to the US when she was just 17-years-old, as she explains: “I was a fine artist so I came to New York for art school and I wanted to do painting. When I graduated from art school it was ‘harsh reality time’ in New York where rents are really high, and you’re in a situation where you have to support yourself, but you don't really have any kind of job training straight out of art school.”

© Reka Nyari
© Reka Nyari

‘Grass’. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 54mm; the exposure was 1/400sec at f/5.6, ISO 400.

She continues: “I wanted to stay in New York and I got picked up for a modelling agency, started working but wanted to do painting. That’s how I originally got into photography; I was travelling all the time, and I didn't have my studio or my paintings, so I was doing photo-realistic paintings. I would take photographs that I thought I would paint later on when back in New York. I always loved photography – I was shooting all throughout art school but I just never thought of myself as a photographer; I thought I was a painter.”

Building up business

Reka’s photographic business grew out of a deep desire to allow her enough time to be creative. “I wanted to work a few nights a week and make some money, then be creative for the rest of the time. I started waitressing a few nights a week and then kind of got into the whole [club] lifestyle; I have a whole series of self-portraits that I did [at that time] but it’s kind of a lifestyle that sucks you in. You think you’re going to have all this time and energy but once you’re up till 5am, 6am, 7am three nights a week… you end up being tired and sleeping. I got into that life but what was amazing about it is you make great contacts. My first clients were people I’d known for years and I told them I was getting into photography and they said, ‘OK, you’re hired for a shoot for me’.”

Reka admits: “It was also an amazing opportunity – I was hanging out with models, musicians and artists, so it was pretty easy for me to start building my book. I worked in between going out, building my book, learning Photoshop, [learning] lighting and I basically taught myself studio photography… all within a year. I started getting good clients from day one – my first paid client was DC Comics and there were a few others who just basically booked [me]. I was doing campaigns for Rado [watches] a year after that.”

She recalls: “I remember saying to people: ‘Hey, you haven’t seen my work’ but I think a lot of the time it is about your personality and people trusting you. They became repeat clients but I’m sure that if you did a terrible job the first time you wouldn't get hired again.”

Reka explains: “When I was a painter I always felt it wasn’t 100 percent me because it was so solitary; you’re slaving away by yourself most of the time in the studio. You spend so much time on one piece that selling it for any kind of a price is almost impossible. Once I got into shooting [pictures] I just loved the instant gratification; I loved the social aspect, I loved collaborating with creative people on-set and I’ve always loved fashion. When I was looking at an old notebook [recently] I had written that I wanted to be a fashion designer and I’ve always loved beautiful clothes. I think it was really a great fit for my personality; there’s nothing else I’d want to do in the world than what I’m doing.”

© Reka Nyari
© Reka Nyari

Image from a commercial shoot for Further Future 2016. Model: Ragnhild @ IMG. Stylist: Ise White. Make-up artist: Anastasia Durasova. Hair stylist: Deycke Heidorn. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 115mm; the exposure was 1/180sec at f/4, ISO 100.

As to her main creative influences Reka reveals: “I really loved the work of Cindy Sherman from early on and also Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin. I was always really into cinema as well… [directors] like Roman Polanski and David Lynch... that whole thing. I feel that is still kind of with me where I love to do things that are a bit eerie and I guess edgy, sexy and suggestive. I look to do things with a hint of darkness.”

Photographic gear

As to why she ended up picking the Canon EOS system to shoot with, Reka says: “When I started choosing my own camera I did a little research and I decided to go with Canon. I still shoot film sometimes and I love film. But I’m so comfortable with the Canon [system] I can use it with my eyes closed. It’s kind of my tool now and it’s been working really well.”

She continues: “I have two EOS 5D Mark III bodies. I started with the 5D, then I went to the Mark II and now I have the Mark III. I’m probably going to upgrade to the new one [the 5D Mark IV] now that it’s out. I have a collection of lenses and I would say my ‘go-to’ [lenses], which I love using the most, are the 70-200mm f/2.8 and the 85mm f/1.2. Those two are pretty much on all my shoots and are the ones I work with the most.”

Reka explains: “I use ProFoto lighting. I have the new [B1 500] Air kit; it’s pretty amazing – it’s the one that uses plug-ins and is super light; I use it on location. Then in my studio I have another ProFoto [D1 Air] studio kit, softboxes and that kind of thing. The lenses that I use I absolutely love and the cameras work really well. I travel with them and I’ve broken them and replaced them. My last camera looked so beat – all the black paint on it came off – it looked like a warzone camera. I love them and they've worked really, really well for me.”

Set-ups and post-production

Reka’s approach to lighting set-ups and shoots is quite intuitive. She explains: “It depends on what I’m shooting. Whether I’m in the studio or on location or whether it’s more of a moody [shoot]. I usually shoot with my strobes and I’m pretty intuitive when I work in the studio. I know a lot of photographers are very technical but I kind of know what works and go with my gut. When I’m on-set I kind of test things out and I feel [what works]. I love to experiment while I’m shooting, so there’s not one [regular] thing that I do.”

© Reka Nyari
© Reka Nyari

‘Nude York Nine’. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 85mm; the exposure was 1/200sec at f/5, ISO 400.

Reka continues: “There’s nothing set [in stone]. It’s more like ‘let’s try this today’ or a lot of times I’ll do something that I know is true and tested and I know that I’ll get an amazing result. Then I’ll say: ‘We got this, let's try and change things up’. I love to try and change things up on-set instead of just using that one light or doing that one thing that works over and over again. That has worked really well [for me] and I feel like I learn new things all the time.”

Reka always shoots RAW image files and reveals: “I use Lightroom first and do a kind of edit. I try to look at the photos pretty soon after I’ve worked and I do a star rating where I look through and delete [images]. Then I go through all the files, keep all the files that I think are pretty good, and then go through them again to give myself a little bit more time. It’s basically a three-level system and then usually look at my three stars [images] again and decide where I want to go with post-production. I used to re-touch myself; I learnt it and did all the retouching and now I don't have the time so I actually have a team that does a lot better work than I can! It’s just a godsend because having to edit such a big amount of work and then retouch it yourself gets to be very time-consuming.”

Ideas for projects

Reka balances her personal projects with commercial work, but where do her ideas come from? “I think I’m a fine art photographer first and then my fine art sentimentality also goes into my fashion [photography]. In the best-case scenarios it is commercial paid work that I can also be very creative with. I’m constantly writing down ideas. My ideas come from life situations, from New York, from movies, from just doing research and looking at what other artists are doing and what they're not doing, including video, music, fashion and fine art. It’s a combination of things.”

She reveals: “When I was a painter people said I should be an illustrator because I’m always telling stories. It was really important to me that if it was a portrait of a woman that it wasn’t ‘just’ a portrait; that there was a back-story, a narrative, and you could maybe imagine a million things. For me the worst thing when someone looks at my work is if they don’t feel anything. If they dislike it it’s much better than them just saying, ‘Oh, OK, it’s a picture of a face’. I guess I just want to tell stories and I’m really attracted to relationships that are a little bit deeper and not so obvious.”

© Reka Nyari
© Reka Nyari

‘Blue Smoke’. Model: Ginzilla. Hair and make-up: Malgorzata Lesniewski. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 70mm; the exposure was 1/125sec at f/3.2, ISO 100.

Reka admits: “I always have tons of fine art projects going on at the same time, which can be a bit overwhelming. I recently had a baby and you can get behind [with work] but paid work comes first and then, when you have time, you can do the creative stuff. In the beginning most of my income was from my commercial projects for clients but now I’ve got a lot bigger presence with my fine art work so I’m constantly exhibiting and selling prints. I’m happy to say that I am exhibiting all over the world. This year I have new shows coming up in Hong Kong in March and the Venice Biennale [art exhibition] in May 2017, which is a huge honour – so there’s amazing stuff happening in the fine art realm.”

Strength in women

Much of Reka’s work is confident and stylish imagery of women, but what would she like people to see in her work? “I like people to see strength in women [that I shoot]. I shoot a lot of women who are sexy or nude or edgy but I always feel like I’m shooting the woman for women. I think it’s up to us to choose to show our bodies the way we want to; it’s not like being a kind of a sex object type of situation. If it’s anything [I’d like people to see in my pictures] it’s strength and self-control.”

Reka continues: “When I’m photographing another woman she’s just pleasing herself. It's not like a man she’s trying to look stereotypically sexy for, posing or anything else. It’s more about being naked, being good in your own skin versus that kind of being in a situation with a man where you’re trying to look sexy for the opposite sex, if that makes sense. The feedback from a lot of the models I work with who shoot nude with me, and with men, is they say that it's just so comfortable; it’s like just being naked by yourself or taking a shower. You can be sensual with yourself but without posing or trying to seem sexy or what is stereotypically sexy.”

© Reka Nyari
© Reka Nyari

‘Nude York Four’. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 80mm; the exposure was 1/160sec at f/2.8, ISO 250.

Photographic advice

When asked what’s the best piece of photographic advice she has ever been given, Reka replies: “I don’t remember where I heard it or read it but one thing was to always keep shooting. As an artist sometimes you go through a [creative] lull and I know from other photographers that one moment you're booking work, you're doing well and then you can have a few quiet months and start doubting yourself… you kind of go through ups and downs throughout the year. The advice is to keep shooting; I think if you're creating, and you're in a good place, then good things will come.”

As to her advice for young photographers, Reka states: “I would tell them to work really hard, always be on time, be super-positive and be a really nice person. I think when you see people having a bad attitude in the industry, there’s no reason for it. It sounds so clichéd… but develop yourself and believe in yourself. Learn to take criticism and constantly keep creating, keep shooting, keep learning and establish good relationships – I think that’s really important; good contacts and good relationships.”

“Also, don’t rush. Things take time but I think everyone, when they get into photography, wants to get instant gratification. They start shooting and think they’ll start to get big bookings… but I think it takes a little while to develop your eye and your taste, learn your equipment, make mistakes and learn from them; so allow yourself that journey!”

© Reka Nyari
© Reka Nyari

‘Poseidon’ for REVS magazine. Model: Kyle Bretz @ RED. Make-up and hair: Amanda Beszner. Photo assistant: DJ Nadgar. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 135mm; the exposure was 1/100sec at f/6.3, ISO 100.

Future projects

As to the future Reka already has quite a few ideas and projects in play. “I’d like things to be bigger and better, the [overseas] shows that are happening are really exciting. I’m working on two new book projects – one of them I’ve been working on for years; I’ve shot close to 100,000 photos for it, so it’s been a massive undertaking. It’s a personal project so [it’s tricky] having the time out to edit, to re-touch and I’m hoping to have a proposal ready for March and have that book out in 2017.”

She continues: “I’m also doing a book on the ‘Nude York’ project that I’ve been shooting for years all over New York and I’m showing work. For my commercial work I’m re-doing my website. I’ve always been doing really well as a freelancer and have always booked great jobs. I feel like I’m at a stage now where I do want to find the right agents, so I’m doing research on that, re-doing my portfolio and seeing people.”

“I feel like with the birth of my [one-year-old] daughter I’ve sort of been reborn myself as well. I have had a really fresh perspective on my work and have had an amazing few, super-productive few months. My productivity went down for the first few months [of my daughter’s life] but now that she is in day care I find that I’m a lot more focused, productive and efficient photographer!”

Reka Nyari’s fashion and portrait kitbag


2x EOS 5D Mark III


EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
EF35mm f/1.4L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF85mm f/1.2L II USM


3x ProFoto D1 Air 1000W/s monolights (for studio work)
ProFoto B1 500s (for location work)

Biografia: Reka Nyari

Reka Nyari

Reka Nyari grew up in her parents’ homelands of Finland and Hungary and, at the age of 17, moved to New York to study painting at the School of Visual Arts. After graduating she became a model but was soon drawn to working behind the lens, due to her increasing passion for photography. Her images are inspired by cinema and narrative and often explore the world of adult sexuality from a female perspective. Reka cites her influences as Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Cindy Sherman and Miles Aldridge and she is now known for her fine art, fashion, beauty and commercial work, which has been exhibited in the USA and Europe. Her photography has appeared in numerous magazines, including Esquire, Vanity Fair, Tatler, Korean Cosmopolitan and Twill.


‘Kyoto Poetry’. Model: Ginzilla. Hair and make-up: Malgorzata Lesniewski. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 58mm; the exposure was 1/125sec at f/6.3, ISO 100.